Thursday, October 20, 2011

world series

But not the one that's just starting.  The one that's just finishing - the Orange & Blue World Series.  Much more important, I'm sure.  (In case you're wondering, I'm pulling for the Rangers even though they knocked off my Tigers.  It's their turn, dammit, and I don't have anything in particular against the Cardinals per se, but I hate the idea of them being a "Cinderella" team when that label applies to them as much as it might apply to the Pittsburgh Steelers or Boston Bruins given their historical success.)

Whatever, this is a UVA blog.  It's never a bad time to talk baseball even though we're in the opposite part of the year for baseball season.  UVA's Orange & Blue World Series is often a fair indicator of who'll be called on to play a big role in the upcoming season, and we have a lot of talent to replace next spring.  So this year's OBWS is maybe a little more important than others.  I took the liberty of compiling the stats from the five-game series, posted below.  Be forewarned - my calculation of OBP isn't the correct scientific way.  I just added walks and HBP to AB to get plate appearances.  It isn't statistically "correct" but it's workable.

Obviously this isn't the end-all and be-all of who plays what position next year.  Nevertheless, here are what I think are the major takeaways:

-- Even though Chris Taylor didn't hit so well in these five games, he's probably one of only two players who've got a spot on lockdown for next year.  I don't see Brian O'Connor breaking up what turned out to be a very good double play combo, and Taylor's leadoff hitting was outstanding in 2011.

-- The other player with a reserved parking space is, of course, Keith Werman, possibly the savviest ballplayer on the team.  And his five-game batting average of .318 offers quite a bit of hope that he'll bounce back from a light-hitting 2011.

-- Semi-locks to be in the lineup include Jared King and Derek Fisher, based on their base-on-balls prowess.  Six and seven walks, respectively, which is sure to please O'Connor.  King wasn't likely to leave his first base slot, but space will surely be found in the lineup for Fisher, who came in with the hype and hit one of the team's three home runs in this series.  Left field is the likely landing spot.  (Fisher, by the way, wears Danny Hultzen's old #23.)

-- Mitchell Shifflett's anemic showing is a disappointment.  His speed will get him first crack at center field, but he's got to hit better than 2-for-19 when the bullets are live, or he won't stick.

-- On the other hand, let's hope Reed Gragnani swings that same bat when the season starts.  Goodness: 10-for-20.  At the same time, freshman Nick Howard swung a mean bat himself, batting .364 and knocking in 8 runs to Gragnani's 7; that's #1 and #2 on the team for the series.  Significance?  Both played third base for their respective teams.  This could be the competition of the spring.

-- Speaking of competitions, Nate Irving way outhit Chace Mitchell in the race to be the starting catcher.  That's not surprising; Mitchell, you'll remember, was brought in as the defensive specialist.  This race is nowhere near over, and Mitchell has the advantage of being the juco transfer with the experience.

-- You have to just love how the freshmen hit.  Nick Howard: .364.  Nate Irving: .381.  Mike Papi: .316.  Kenny Towns: .300.  Papi and Derek Fisher hit two of the three homers.  Brandon Cogswell was no slouch at .273.  Small sample size caveats apply in spades, but this is awesome even so.  The only freshman who didn't hit much was Brandon Downes, whose .095 showing was even worse than Shifflett's.  Those were your centerfielders, so let's hope someone shakes the cobwebs loose at some point and grabs the job.

-- There isn't room in the lineup for all those freshmen, plus veterans like Colin Harrington and Stephen Bruno, who've hit well in the past and didn't play their way out of a job in five games.  But the entire outfield, plus third base, is up in the air, and somebody has to DH.  Position battles in the spring will be epic.

-- Branden Kline and Whit Mayberry were the opposing Game 1 and Game 3 starting pitchers, and both pitched quite well in the series.  There you have Friday and Saturday starters, in no real order yet (but probably Kline on Friday and Mayberry on Saturday.)  Mayberry struck out a surprising 14 hitters in 10 innings.

-- Scott Silverstein and Joel Effertz (juco transfer from the same place we got Cody Winiarski) opposed each other in Games 2 and 5; they pitched good in Game 2 and bad in Game 5.  Got shelled, actually.  The other horse in the race for a rotation spot is Kyle Crockett, who pitched an outstanding six innings in Game 3.  If I had to name the rotation based just on this series, it'd be Kline-Mayberry-Crockett, with Silverstein going on weekdays.  (It's for the best, really.  Putting Effertz in the rotation opens up a world of puntastical possibilities for headline writers.  "UVA's Effertz good enough to win."  "Virginia puts in the Effertz to earn a victory."  You can stop throwing tomatoes, I'm done now.)  Anyway, the loser in the equation heads to a long relief role, which'll be plenty important in its own right because this is a good rotation but it doesn't offer the peace of mind of Hultzen-Wilson-Roberts.

-- Far and away the best reliever of the series was Justin Thompson.  Three hits, two walks, seven K's in seven innings.  We might have found a closer.  Juco transfer Chris Fern also put in four solid innings of no-run action; other bullpen possibilities based on results here include Nathaniel Abel, Artie Lewicki, and Austin Young.  Sample size applies even more here because of way few innings pitched, but those are the guys that were consistently handed the ball and did reasonably well with it.  Fern is a lefty, so he's got that going for him; other bullpen lefty Ryan Ashooh also pitched well in three innings of work.

If I had to put together a lineup for Opening Day, right now, I think I'd go like this:

SS Chris Taylor
2B Keith Werman
1B Jared King
LF Derek Fisher
DH Nick Howard
3B Reed Gragnani
RF Colin Harrington/Mike Papi
C Nate Irving
CF Mitchell Shifflett
P Branden Kline

Harrington is a righty and Papi a lefty at the plate, so you're looking at a potential platoon, depending on who's on the mound.  Tough to leave Bruno, Towns, etc. on the bench, but that's why they play more than one game.  And if Werman can successfully bat second and we don't have to drop him to the bottom of the order, it'll be a huge boost for the lineup.

This season offers a lot of uncertainty, what with all the talent needing to be replaced, but we've done this before.  I'm not real worried about the lineup; the OBWS should give you just a ton of confidence in this spring and future springs too.  The pitching?  It has much potential.  Nothing will ever top last year's rotation, but this team will surely put itself right in the hunt again, as usual under Brian O'Connor.


Quick: basketball.  They had the media kickoff today.  UVA was picked fourth by the media.  Fourth!  If they're not careful they'll make me dizzy.  Here's how UVA's been seen by the preseason media poll in the past, oh, decade or so:

2010: 11th
2009: 11th
2008: 12th
2007: 5th
2006: 8th
2005: 12th

That's as far back as the ACC has a preseason poll archived.  Fourth....we didn't even get that much good lovin' from the media after our one tournament season.  That same year, Sean Singletary was (obviously) chosen to the preseason all-conference team - Mike Scott ended that drought this year as well.  (I can't mention Mike Scott without mentioning how seriously jacked up I am to witness his season this year.  This man will be a terror.  Believe it.)

So: expectations, both individual and team.  Haven't had that kind of thing since the Pete Gillen era.  If the rest of the team does as well on the court as Scott and Sammy Z at the team trivia thing, this'll be a fun, fun season.

Seriously, watch the team trivia thing.  It's too funny.


Anonymous said...

I'll be a bit surprised if Stephen Bruno isn't getting regular time of some sort come this spring. He's always been well-liked by scouts, and he had a very good summer, ranking first in BA's listing for talent in the Prospect League. Granted, it's not the top summer league out there, but he still performed well.

I guess I could see him as a super-util guy, dabbling at 2nd, SS, 3rd, OF. That said, if the CF situation doesn't work itself out, I still wonder if O'Connor will consider Bruno at shortstop and move Taylor to CF, the original alignment entering 2011. Bruno's arguably the better defensive player.

I sort of view this year as a bridge year between the great run we just finished and the hoped for next run. We had a couple down years recruiting (well, some guys didn't come, like Justin Nicolino, and others transferred, kid who went back to Ohio, name is slipping me right now). This freshman class looks really good, and looks like it might provide a core to build a nice little run around. The pitching should eventually be fine, and I expect us to be back in the tourny again, but expectations are, obviously, much lower.

Anonymous said...

5 votes in the coaches poll for Tony Bennett's boys. It's a start.

Brendan said...

"That said, if the CF situation doesn't work itself out, I still wonder if O'Connor will consider Bruno at shortstop and move Taylor to CF, the original alignment entering 2011. Bruno's arguably the better defensive player."

I agree with this as a possibility, but I suspect only if the lineup is hurting badly enough. If the 1 through 8 spots are producing, Oak will live with good-field-no-hit from the 9th spot like he did last year. Bruno might be the better defender at short than Taylor, but Shifflett combined with Taylor is a better combo than Taylor/Bruno.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I necessarily agree with that Brendan. I think Bruno is probably the slicker fielder than Taylor, and Shiff is the better CF, but, Taylor/Bruno is a better offensive combination, IMO, and I'm not sure Taylor is a significant enough downgrade from Shiff in CF.

That said, I do agree that Bruno likely will have to fight for PT to start the year as O'Connor will give Taylor the starting job to start the year at short since he was solid there last year.